It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming! ;-)

This is inspired by a well-known sermon by Tony Campolo…I have adapted it a little, but I feel it’s a great reminder for today as we remember what Jesus did, all those years ago. We are told in Romans 5:6 that “…at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (us).” God’s timing is amazing…and something that happened over 2,000 years ago changed history, our story, for ever…

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It’s Friday. Jesus is arrested in the garden where He was praying. He had been betrayed by one of his own group. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. The disciples are hiding and Peter’s even denying that he knows the Lord with whom he walked for around three years. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is standing before the high priest of Israel, silent as a lamb before it gets slaughtered. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked, and spit upon. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Those Roman soldiers are flogging Jesus with a leather whip that has bits of bones and glass and metal, tearing at his flesh. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus, who also called himself the Son of man, stands firm as they press the crown of thorns down into his brow. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. He walks to the hill of Calvary, the blood dripping from His body. The cross crashes down on His back as He stumbles beneath the load. It’s Friday; but Sunday’s a coming.

It’s Friday.The Roman soldiers drive the nails into the feet and hands of Jesus. He cries, “Father, forgive them.” It’s Friday; but Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. The sky grows dark, the earth begins to tremble, Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us. A Holy God who cannot live with sin pours out His wrath and anger on that perfect sacrificial lamb who cries out, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” It’s a horrible cry. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. And at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the Temple that separates sinful man from Holy God was torn from the top to the bottom because Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, heaven is weeping and hell is partying. The Pharisees were strutting around and poking each other in the ribs, mocking over Jesus’ death. But that’s because it’s Friday, and they don’t know it, but Sunday’s a coming.

And on that horrible day over 2000 years ago, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of glory, the only begotten Son of God, the only perfect man, died on the cross of Calvary. Satan thought that he had won the victory. Surely he had destroyed the Son of God. Finally he had disproved the prophecy God had uttered in the Garden and the one who was to crush his head had been destroyed. But that was Friday….

Sunday’s Coming!

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You are a masterpiece :-)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2: 1-10

It’s been a long time since I posted here. I felt that I had gone as far as I could, for now, with my story to faith – but now I feel it is right to resume, although these posts will be more of a ‘word for today’ sort of encouragement. I hope that you, the reader, will be encouraged 😉

The other week, a student was explaining to me about the meaning of a badge she was wearing – it had something to do with being a ‘believer in Darwinism’, the theory of evolution etc. It reminded me of a conversation with another student a few years ago, when we discussed that very theme. She strongly believed that we are descended from apes etc, something which, as a believing Christian, I am not in agreement with. I told her that in the morning, I can get up and look in the mirror, and be thankful that I can see God’s image reflected – not a monkey’s (though some of my friends might disagree! 🙂 ), and that makes a BIG difference about the way that I look at myself.

In this passage from Ephesians, Paul is reminding his readers, and therefore us, that our faith is the gift and grace of God. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves – all of that has been done by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and ascension – as he himself said, it is finished. However, Paul also throws in a wonderful word of encouragement. We are the ‘handiwork’ of God – actually, that word (in the Greek) can also mean ‘masterpiece’. We are God’s masterpiece. We are a work of art. Yes, even with all our faults, problems, even sins…God, through Jesus, is able to work with all of that and create a masterpiece. And that’s what I see when I look in the mirror in the morning…and believe me, that’s a whole lot better than seeing an ape 😉

You are a masterpiece 🙂

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Easter – a time to reflect…in a slightly provocative way… :-)

What does Easter mean for YOU? Is it really about bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs? Is it about celebrating spring & new life (though in this seemingly never-ending winter in Czech Republic, it’s hard to see how that can be celebrated as fresh snow falls…!)? Or is there some deeper meaning for you – some might call it ‘religious’?

As a believer in Jesus – it is a time for me to reflect on how Jesus died, willingly, for our sins – in the most painful way imaginable – by being crucified on a cross. It was a big revelation to me, all those years ago (watching the Jesus story in an old film) when I saw that I had ‘sin’ in my life – and needed help. It was a greater revelation to discover that that was exactly why Jesus came – to rescue us from a pointless & futile life. He died for me. He died for you.

But the story didn’t end there…thankfully… For a dead saviour is no good to anyone!

Though today, Christians reflect on Jesus’ death (and rightly so, it’s not something that we take lightly) – we also look forward to Sunday. To reflect on the wonderful truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Even death and the grave could not hold him! Some people have a problem getting out of bed in the morning…I am so glad that Jesus didn’t on that resurrection morning, many years ago.

In past years at SGO (my school) – I have shown the following video clip.

It is a parody of what might have happened if Terminator (as played by Arnie) might have tried to protect Jesus and prevent him from dying. Some (such as myself) find it funny, some are offended (usually for religious reasons, thinking that it is wrong to make fun of such things). All I ask is that you watch it with an open mind…and reflect on what Jesus says…’I am supposed to die for the sins of mankind…’ And even Terminator’s words at the end…’He’ll be back.’

It is meant to provoke you into thinking. Yes – it is a fictional parody. But for me, there is a true story – and it tells a wonderful truth that everyone needs to hear. Jesus came that we might have LIFE – not religion…but LIFE!

May God bless you this Easter-time.

The white brother

Living in Birmingham for most of my life, I got used to the multi-cultural society that I was surrounded by. Indeed, living in Czech Republic, it is very rare for me to meet anyone who is a different colour to myself (I’m a whitey-pinkish colour), other than perhaps Gypsies, the Nepalese guys who cook the great meals in The Crack in Olomouc, and Maurice (my Kenyan friend).And I’ll be honest – I miss the colourful variety. It reminds me of an incidence when I was a young Christian.
I’d been invited to a West Indian church, near Birmingham City centre by a friend from work. As it filled up I noted that most of them were West Indian, but I didn’t think there was anything unusual about it. As I said, you sort of got used to it & it was a regular part of life. We had a lively time singing some gospel songs. I just LOVE gospel music! Music of the soul, praising God with all of your being…and having fun 🙂 Then it was time for some testimonies. All was fine until the leader said, “Let’s hear what the white brother has got to say!” I looked around to see where the white brother was. I became acutely aware that everyone was turning around and looking with expectation…at me! It was then that I truly realised that everyone had a black face, except me. I was the white brother…
It is one of the great things about the Christian faith that whatever your colour, sex, background, height, width, smell etc, you find yourself in a much bigger family than you began the journey with.
Martin Luther King echoed these thoughts many years ago when he said:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

And I believe the heart of God is in those words too…

Being taken to my limits…

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We all have our limits, and being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from that – but I’ve discovered that from time to time, it appears that God will allow us to be stretched a bit more in order to find out what’s really in this very earthen vessel that is known as my body. Walsall was such a hard time for me. Stress seemed to permeate the very walls of the building where I lived and worked. My first year there was dreadful. Within a couple of weeks there, I had lost the respect of my boss by being too soft with some of my decisions. I was trying to be ‘the nice guy’ with the teenagers, in the hope that they would respond positively to what I asked of them. It backfired badly, and they began to run all over me and pull me in all sorts of directions. I allowed one rule to be slightly compromised, and before I knew it, everyone was at it. Rules were being bent and twisted like when people make animals out of balloons.

As a result of this, my boss was quite hard on me to begin with. I partly understood why after she told me a little bit of her story. One evening in Walsall, she was waylaid by a gang of about six youths. She was black, and it was a racially motivated attack, albeit a very cowardly one by six ‘tough’ guys on one woman. Unfortunately for them, they picked on the wrong woman. They also made the mistake of not covering their faces during their onslaught. As they were beating her up, she clocked each one’s face to her memory. She told me that over a period of about six months, she tracked each one of them down, individually, and got them on their own. This time, it was one on one, and she wreaked her revenge on each one and settled her scores with them. There wasn’t a lot of forgiveness on offer; just a dose of some Charles Bronson-like comfort. There was a sensitive and amusing side to my boss, but she was also hard; possibly the hardest woman I’ve ever met. I wasn’t sure that I could ever reach this standard of toughness in my work, or even if I wanted to.

There were many times during that first year when I could quite easily have quit and given up. I was horribly lonely. It took me a while to get to know people in Walsall, and it was difficult for me to keep going day by day in such a tough and demanding job.

However, I rode the early storm and after a year there, I began to have some breakthroughs. I toughened up more. It meant that I had to be firmer and more consistent in my dealings with the teenagers. It also meant being unpopular at times; but I found that if I stood my ground then I would get the results. And I eventually got the respect of my boss back, a few months before she left. There were times when I enjoyed the head-on challenges that such a job offered. But more often than not, it seemed like a relentless procession of one stressful incident after another. A conveyor belt of hassle… 

It was frequently very hard for me to get and then to maintain some privacy. My working life used to blend with my free time to a great degree, but not by my choice. If friends came to visit, I would be desperate to go out to the pub or cinema with them, because I knew all too well that it would not be long before someone would knock my door or ring my bell to tell me that so-and-so was causing problems, or that so-and-so had left their stuff in the washing machine, or to ask me for change for the phone, or any variety of petty and occasionally serious needs. My friends, however, considered it to be great amusement, and would love to prolong their visits in order to see what trouble would present itself. I was part of a living soap-opera. On reflection, I was a forerunner for ‘reality TV’.

I was in the habit of visiting my parents, who were still living in Castle Vale, every other weekend, and would stay there just for the break it afforded from the demands and problems with the teenagers. It was an oasis for me and I would milk it to the full, squeezing out the last drops of the weekend. But each time I returned to Walsall, a sense of impending dread would be a fellow passenger for the journey home on the 966 bus. My mind would be full of questions such as “What am I going back to this time?”, “I do hope they haven’t emptied the fire extinguishers again…”, and “I hope that no-one burnt the milk or the chip pan fryer on the cooker again…!” It took me a long time to try to come to terms with this stress, and to be honest, I don’t know if I ever succeeded. It wasn’t easy having charge of a house full of rampant adolescents, let alone two houses. Not easy at all. As a Christian, it was the steepest of learning curves. It was like downhill skiing…but going upwards, sometimes in reverse! At other times it was very much like walking a threadbare tightrope, and I’m quite certain that from time to time I fell off – with a mighty thud. I did learn a lot from it, but mostly about my own failings under pressure. But I also had to learn the hard way how to trust in God, even when I threatened to snap and lose the plot completely.

But everyone has their limit – and one night, I reached mine. It concerned a confrontation that I had with a young Asian lad named Dipak. On the whole, Dipak was quite well meaning and genuinely wanted to get on in life. But he was also fond of being the centre of attention and liked to be the one making everybody laugh. One night, a few of the residents had congregated in the room above my bedroom. It was well past midnight, and I was very tired. There was a midnight curfew for noise and visitors, but I was fairly reasonable about people staying up late, as long as they didn’t bother me or anybody else. But this night, I was awakened from my slumber by a tapping noise. As I came around, I was sure that someone was very deliberately tapping their foot on the floor above me. I waited long enough to be sure that it was deliberate – yes it was, and the volume was even increasing. I went up with the intention of politely asking whoever it was to stop and to be quiet, and to please go to bed if they couldn’t be. I was annoyed and tired, but in control.

I knocked on the door and went in. As soon as I went in, even before I had a chance to speak, Dipak said with what was supposed to be his cheeky smile, “Did I wake you up?” And that was when I lost it… All the mini-tensions of the previous months were all cranked up together in that moment, and the camel’s fragile back finally caved in under this latest straw. Dipak was sitting there with two other residents, both of whom suddenly went quiet, realising that he’d pushed the self-destruct button on this occasion. This was not the time to win friends with cheap laughs at my expense. I had reached my limit, and was wavering beyond it. I walked up to Dipak, put my hand under his chin and grabbed him firmly by the neck. He was quite small in stature, so it was no problem for me, at least, not at that particular moment. I slowly marched him to the window, which was open in the summer night, his feet barely touching the ground. An image of Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Commando’ flashed through my mind (“I let him go…”), and I said something like this…“You probably think you’re very funny, don’t you, Dipak? Am I laughing? You’re probably thinking ‘Clive’s a Christian. He wouldn’t really hurt me.’ Well, Dipak, I’ve got news for you. Even Christians have got their limits, and I’ve just reached mine. At this moment, there’s nothing more I’d like to do than to shove you out of this window, and take my chances with God and the law. Dipak, believe it or not, right now you need more faith in God than I do. You need to believe that God wouldn’t let me do such a thing. That he wouldn’t let anything like this happen to you. Do you have that faith, Dipak? Because right now, I’m not sure that I do.”

I stood holding him by the neck, poised near the open window. When I said it, I don’t doubt that I meant it, but part of me also couldn’t believe that I’d said it. I had reached the edge, and I was dangerously close to going over it. I swear he was going pale. “Yes! I believe, I believe!” he shouted. “Don’t hurt me!” I relaxed and I let him go…onto solid ground, mind you, and not out of the window! I had no more problems that night. Come to think of it, Dipak never did give me any more grief after that. I went back to bed. At first, I felt very ashamed at how badly I’d handled it. I felt very sorry for him…and for myself. I guess I could have handled it more maturely. But then I realised what I’d done – I’d given an honest reaction. It might not have been perfect, but it was real. God is big; he’s also a lot bigger than our mistakes too. I really don’t think it’s possible to live the Christian life without making some mistakes along the way. Becoming a Christian doesn’t suddenly change all our faults. I was, and still am, in the process.

Years later, I moved south to Basingstoke I went for a routine check-up at the doctors, as I was new to the surgery. They were concerned about my high blood pressure, but they put this down to my weight and told me to watch my diet and to come back in three weeks. When I returned, my weight remained the same, but my blood pressure had gone down a lot, and they were puzzled as to why this was. They asked me some questions about my lifestyle and what I’d been doing in Walsall, and so I told them. As soon as I mentioned my job and the word ‘teenagers’, the diagnosis was quickly ascertained: “Ah! Stress…” they responded, and told me the change in my job would do me good. It would be better then any medicine that they could offer me. They were right.

Does God really speak to us?

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One of the amazing things about being a Christian is the discovery that God really does speak to us – that he is very interested in our lives! “So…Mr Everill…are you in the habit of hearing voices?” No…not like that 😉 What do I mean by that, anyway – “God spoke to me”? Did I hear him clearly, as if my wife or a friend was in the room – an audible voice? Or did he speak to me in a more fantastic and supernatural way – the ‘voice from heaven’, booming amidst the thunder? Well, as of yet, this has never been my experience, and I’m rather thankful for that. For if the Bible is anything to go by, when that kind of thing happened to people, it would tend to scare them stiff. But God has a variety of ways of getting our attention. Once, God even spoke to a man through a donkey. As for me, it happened like this…

One Sunday morning in Basingstoke, as the church meeting was finishing, I asked for some prayer from a couple of my friends. I just felt that I wanted to know more about God in my life. Phil (the leader) and Bob (a musician) were praying for me, and all was relatively normal until Bob started laying his hands very firmly on my shoulders and saying, “Lord, would you bless this man’s broad shoulders…? Thank you for his broad shoulders! You’ve given him such broad shoulders, Lord. Bless these broad shoulders!” And on and on he went; praying about my shoulders. I was worried that Bob might have a thing about my shoulders. To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed by it. After all, I didn’t think that they were that special. He told me afterwards that he didn’t know why he felt as if he had to pray that way. He was just responding to what he believed God had prompted him to do. I thanked him for it and went home for lunch.

As I wandered away from the meeting, I mulled over what God might be trying to communicate to me and why he seemed so singularly interested in my shoulders all of a sudden. I mused on it until I had my lunch…and then I just forgot all about it. Perhaps Bob did have a shoulders fixation?

It was a beautiful spring day, so I decided to take a walk that afternoon in the nearby countryside around Basingstoke. I picked a circuit on the map, aiming to go off the beaten track a little. This meant taking a short cut to get to a favourite walk of mine. I left a small road, and I took the short cut across a field. It was then that I noticed something going on in the adjacent field. A farmer was in the process of pulling a calf from a cow. All that was visible was the legs. I had never seen this before. It was like the scene in ‘City Slickers’, where the rookie cowboys help bring ‘Norm’,the calf, into the world. I edged neared and nearer, adapting a sort of crab-like sidling along action, and could see that this was some struggle; so I tentatively asked the farmer if I he needed any help. This involved some risk on the farmer’s behalf as my veterinary skills could only be compared, in this case, to my midwifery skills – no experience whatsoever. However, he was undeterred by this and immediately and gratefully accepted my offer. Straightaway, he got me involved in the action and put a rope in my hand which had a leg of the calf tied to it, while he had a rope with the other visible leg tied to it. He told me that we were to pull in the same direction; otherwise we would twist the back of the emerging calf and cause it great damage. I marveled as the head of the calf slowly came out of the cow as we pulled together.

For twenty minutes we continued like this; gently and yet very firmly pulling in unison; each pull bringing the calf’s birth to imminent reality…until suddenly, behold out popped Norm,as I christened him. And what a pop it was! Blood and mess everywhere, and one new-born calf lying in the midst of it. The farmer quickly got the mother to start licking the calf, which it did quite happily. It was a special moment to have been involved in; helping to bring new life into the world. I was reveling in the thrill of it all. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful day. It was good to be alive. This really was something to savour. Just then, I noticed the farmer’s wife had quietly joined us. We chatted, and she thanked me for helping. She marveled at the timing of me taking a short cut across the field, just when it was needed most. Then she said, almost as if she was reading from a heavenly script, “It must be good to have broad shoulders.”

Goose bumps the size of golf balls broke out all over me. A tingle raced up and down my spine like a yo-yo. I instantly remembered Bob’s rambling prayer about my‘broad shoulders’. Those were the exact words I was hearing again. How on earth did she know? I broke out in a big smile. God was speaking to me; and he was coming through loud and clear. He’d gotten my attention firstly through Bob, then he set me up with the calf through my short cut, and finally he pinned back my ears through the farmer’s wife. Two people, and a calf, who didn’t even know each other.

Some of you might be wondering why I am so worked up about it – after all, isn’t it yet another of those odd coincidences that we sometimes get in life? You’re welcome to that opinion, but let’s agree that it’s a very impressive coincidence, at least. You might also be wondering what it was that God wanted to talk to me about. What was so special about my shoulders that God felt the need to communicate it to me in this way? As I walked away across the field to continue with my journey, I began to reflect on Bob’s prayer and on what had just happened. A light started to flicker. Years after the event, I still can’t tell you that I fully understand all that that prayer of Bob’s meant, but some of it is clearer, and it is personal. If you want to know more, I’d be happy to tell you 🙂 However, the important thing is that God clearly spoke to me that day, and I knew it. Mind you, this was just one way of how he does it. There have been other ways… Maybe I’ll share them sometime 😉

A living letter

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When I was young, I wanted to be a postman. Now, I know you might think that this lacks a little ambition and that it’s not what many people would consider to be a stunning career move, but even now in the throes of middle age, I still find immense satisfaction in delivering good news to people. We all love receiving good news. However, quite what I’d do about all the bills and bad news, in my imagined position as a postman, I haven’t yet figured out. I guess this longing originated when I was about seven years old and I made some tentative steps into what might have proved to be the budding of my postal career. My mother discerned my enthusiasm to be a postman, and being creative and genuinely wanting to fan this spark of interest into flame, she gave me an old tattered cushion which was ripped down the middle, and as she pulled it apart, disemboweling it of its contents, I could see that it was stuffed with loads of small square-shaped pieces of material of different colours. To our combined imaginations, they looked something like letters, just waiting to be posted. She encouraged me to go and play postman by pretending that the cushion was my sack, and to post the colourful letters through our letter box. This captured my fancy for a short while, but I soon grew bored of it; after all, they weren’t real letters, were they? And my family only possessed one letterbox. I needed something more like the real thing…

Later that same day, my mother was surprised to find she had a steady stream of neighbours knocking on our front door and returning private letters belonging to my parents, that had been neatly delivered into their post-boxes. Unbeknown to my mother, I’d been mooching. This is a good old Birmingham phrase for ‘sneaking around’ somewhere where I shouldn’t have been sneaking around. I had ventured into the forbidden zone of my parent’s bedroom (without telling either of them, of course), and had found an old biscuit tin lying on the floor under a cupboard. When I opened it, I was thrilled to discover that it contained such an abundance of letters, each still in its very own envelope, and which were mainly of the plain brown and white varieties. Even though they’d already been opened, it was a goldmine to a fledgling post-boy such as myself. I had the letters, now all I needed were the post-boxes, and where better than on the street where I lived? Needless to say, my parent’s private life soon became a source of common interest and knowledge to the neighbours, and the flickering flame of my once promising career as a postman was snuffed out.

I never did become a postman, but having become a Christian, I discovered something wonderful in the Bible one day. In one of the letters there, written by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (a long time ago!), he said, “…you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…” And through that I began to discover one of my God-given gifts – encouragement. I just love encouraging people! And this image of being a living letter, bringing good news to those around me, gives me a real buzz. As a living letter, God has sent me through his postal system to many different places, meeting many different people…and I guess there’s a few more deliveries still to make… 😉

About the ‘title’…being worth more than many sparrows…

Having come this far in the telling of my story, I think it is time to explain the meaning behind the title of this Blog. It comes from some words of Jesus, which he spoke to a big crowd of people, but which was firstly meant for his disciples…his followers. He was basically warning them of some tough times that were coming. Jesus was not popular with the religious leaders of his day (indeed, I wonder how he would get on with many of them these days?? :-)), and he knew that his followers would be threatened, intimidated…maybe even their very lives would be at risk. So he said:

 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

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It always amazes me how often Jesus referred to everyday things in explaining his words – using images that his listeners could relate to. Everybody would have been aware of the sparrows – a very cheap bird to buy (for food) – and one which even today is dismissed as being ‘ordinary’. Yet the amazing thing is that God has not forgotten them! They might be cheap in the world’s eyes, but he’s even aware of the death of a sparrow (so the Gospel of Matthew tells us)! 

His followers need to get things in perspective – he tells them ‘don’t be afraid of what man can do to you – the worse thing that he can do is…kill you!’ Comforting words?!? 🙂 He reminds them that their ‘fear’ needs to be refocused…If you’re going to be scared of anyone, then be afraid of him who has the power to do worse things to your soul… But don’t stop there! Actually, if you trust in Jesus, in what he says…then you don’t need to be afraid…you are worth a whole lot more than many sparrows!

Whoever you are, reading this…you need to know. You have real value. You are not worthless or useless. If God has one eye on the sparrows, he still manages to have both on you – don’t ask me how he does it – I don’t know! But he does! 🙂 If you remember nothing else, know this – you are valuable – a precious creation. Unique. There will never be another you. I sometimes tell my students an illustration…

Once upon a time, your mommy & daddy got together (to represent this, I draw a sperm and an egg on the blackboard) – and they made you… Now, there were millions of these sperm, and one egg…but only one sperm made it to the egg. Only one touched down! And that was YOU! Your sperm won! So, remember this – you are NOT a loser! You are a winner! And God thinks a lot about you, and of you…even if you don’t believe in him. He’s big enough to deal with that…

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…and into the light!

 

 

After my answer to prayer in Switzerland, it was as if a candle had been lit in a very dark room. Things started to take on a different appearance. Had I not prayed to God, and hadn’t he heard me? It was a bit of a shock to have a prayer so immediately and dramatically answered. God now had my attention. I also felt a new sense of purpose, and after all the reading I’d done I’d finally come to a conclusion about my beliefs. I now had no problem believing that God was real and that he could hear me. It wasn’t just this dramatic answer to prayer; there had been a gradual change in my thinking. The issue for me now was this; “Was Jesus really who he said he was…and is? And if so, what does that mean for me?” I still couldn’t make up my mind.

Afterwards, back in Birmingham, I told my Christian friend of my answer to prayer. She was thrilled. I was keen on going to a church, but she encouraged me to wait and to go and see Billy Graham, the famous American evangelist, who was soon to be speaking in Birmingham at Villa Park. So on 1st July 1984, on a hot summer’s day, after listening to Billy Graham talk about the Gospel, about Jesus, and about the Good Samaritan (from chapter 10 in the Gospel of Luke), I knew I had to make a choice. I was at a crossroads in my life. I had to get off my roundabout of indecision. This day might never come again. I knew that whatever decision I made, it would prove to be a major turning point for me – perhaps the major turning point in my life! I can’t say I fully understood everything at that moment, but I was willing to trust Jesus’ claims that he was the Son of God. I trusted him when he said that he’d died for my sins, and that I needed his forgiveness; which was now available. My life to that point had been without purpose. I’d sort of rambled through it, sometimes in an alcoholic daze, understanding very little of who I was and what I was living for. I’d been searching for the truth. Now, I was finally convinced that I had found it. Or perhaps, it had found me.I got out of my seat, took the red pill of faith, and stepped into reality.

The lights came on for me at last. When I went forward, I acknowledged that I wasn’t living in such a random world as I used to believe; but that there was a point and a purpose to it all, and that God, as shown by Jesus Christ, was very much the driving force behind it all. I made a decision that has affected the rest of my life. I changed direction. Funnily enough, it seemed to me that God confirmed what I had done in an amazing way. As I gathered on the Villa Park pitch with many others, waiting to be prayed for, we were told that afterwards someone would come and speak with us in order to make sure that we understood what we had done, why we had done it, and to refer us to a local church. After the prayer, I lifted up my head, and a man came to me saying, “You don’t know me, but I know you!” He was one of the many ‘anonymous’ people who I signed on at the Unemployment Office, and who saw me every fortnight! I was learning quickly that God has his people exactly where he wants them, and at just the right time. Or was it just another ‘coincidence’?

I really did float home that evening. I had such a buzz. I hadn’t felt so good in a very long time, and without any alcohol too – it was a most unusual feeling. As soon as I walked in the front door, my Mom said, “Oh no! He’s gone forward!” She could just tell looking at me that I’d done something. I was glowing and grinning like a village idiot. My family all thought that it was yet another ‘nine day wonder’, as we used to call it. They were convinced that it wouldn’t last. Well, it’s nearly thirty years on, and I’m still following Jesus, and I want to continue following him, right to the end of my life on this planet and “to eternity…and beyond!”

But there was still one more surprise to come. About three months later, having joined a local house-church in Castle Vale, I made a choice to be baptised in water. My Mom had a problem with this to begin with, as she believed it was enough for me to have been christened when I was a baby. But not having a memory that went back so far, I decided to take the plunge myself, based on my decision to follow Jesus, and to make it more personal this time. On such occasions in the church that I was part of, you were given a baptismal verse, which is taken from the Bible and is meant to be a reminder and encouragement to you of the step that you have taken. Mine was from Psalm 37:3-6… It reads:

Trust in the Lord and do good;

Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

Trust in Him and He will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

The justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

It didn’t mean half as much to me until I was sorting through some old mail later on, trying to find the Christmas card which had been sent by Brigitte a few years earlier, in order that I could write to her and tell her the good news of my decision to become a Christian too. Only then did I realise that she had written almost the very same verses to me; word for word! Another ‘coincidence’? By now, there were too many of them. I preferred to call them God-incidences…

Coming from the darkness…

The valley’s deep and the mountain’s so high, if you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side.” Barclay James Harvest – ‘Hymn’

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We were stuck. My friend Keith and I had been walking on a footpath in the Swiss Alps from Wengen to Grindlewald, when it suddenly disappeared under a thin covering of snow. It was late afternoon by now, and we had come too far to go back the way we had come. We really couldn’t see any way downhill. The footpath had come to a dead-end; its way hidden by the white blanket of snow. I walked on a little way ahead of Keith, and I sat down and did something which until then, I had never done before in my life, at least, not conciously. I prayed. I guess you could say that I talked to God, because it was as simple as that. Quietly, for fear of Keith overhearing me, I asked God to help us. My prayer went something like this: “Well, God, if you really exist, if you can really hear me; then please help us to find a way down from here, because we’re stuck. Amen.” That was all. Immediately, I heard some shouts from below. Keith, having the vantage point on the hill above me, said he could see somebody lower down. With renewed hope, we ran down the hillside and found two locals, who spoke neither English nor French, but one mention of ‘Grindlewald’ was enough. They nodded vigorously, “Ja, ja!” , and they led us down a steep and winding path, which we would never have found on our own as it was hidden from our sight up the hill. A couple of hours later at the bottom, after a steep but exhilarating descent, we exchanged firm and very thankful handshakes and went our separate ways. As our two rescuers wandered off into the sunset, I plucked up the courage to tell Keith that I’d prayed back up there, and that at that very moment our help appeared. He said, “When I saw them, I thought they were our guardian angels!”

This was the spring of 1984; the year that George Orwell said that ‘Big Brother’ would be watching us. But instead, I was soon to discover that a BIG God was watching over me, and was about to introduce himself into my life. It was a simple incident, but it was the culmination of a journey that, at times, I hadn’t even realised I was on. This story proved to be a pivotal moment in my life; a hinge of the door that would open up a whole new world to me – and life as it really is. The speed of the answer to that prayer was alarming for me. It had been too quick to be passed off as just a coincidence. It was yet another confirmation that the road I had recently begun to explore was actually going somewhere.

During the previous months, whilst in the midst of my depression, I got talking to a friend at work who was a Christian. She lent me a book by a pop singer, Cliff Richard, called ‘You, me and Jesus’ I smuggled it home, as if it were some illicit material. Initially, I felt embarrassed to read it, but then I was intrigued to find that parts of it were beginning to speak to me. He wrote about things that had been troubling me during my depression, having lived a bit wildly in his youth. A lot of it I could relate to. It made a big impression on me.

As I discussed what I’d read with her, she was straight enough to tell me that I needed God in my life. More than that, she told me that Jesus was my only hope. I still wasn’t convinced, but I started to listen to her. She seemed to be more together in her life than myself, and other people that I knew. I asked her some really awkward questions as I sought to pull the Christian faith apart; such as “Does Jesus save animals? Do animals have souls?” I guess I was still affected by the traumatic episode of my budgie’s death. Then I went to the library and got books out on religion. This was a big step for me, but I felt I had to look into it a bit more. I discovered some books by Richard Wurmbrand, who’d been imprisoned in Communist Romania for his faith as a Christian. They really got me thinking. Here was someone who was willing to be imprisoned and even tortured for believing in Jesus and telling other people about it. Why? What was it about Jesus that would make people follow his way of life – even to die for it, if need be?

Months passed. I continued to search for meaning in my life. By now, I’d decided, as a sort of experiment, to go tee-total for a while, much to the amusement of my old drinking buddies. They remained convinced that a good beer was all that I needed. They were concerned that I was going all religious on them. But I was unrelenting in my determination to find something of value in life. It was the Easter of 1984. I was at home alone and had nothing better to do, so I watched an old religious film called ‘King of Kings’ (starring Jeffrey Chandler) which was about the life of Jesus Christ. I’d never really thought much about Jesus, probably since my childhood. If you’d have asked me back then what I thought of him, I might have said that if he had existed at all, he had probably been a sort of politician who knew a few tricks and could easily persuade people, but I was never really convinced as to what his motives were, as he never seemed to make a lot of money out of it; unless, of course, he was doing that secretly. Interestingly, most of my belief was based on the fact that I knew very little about him. I was not prepared for what was to happen. As I watched this film unfold, something in me started to break up. I couldn’t stop myself. By the end of it, when Jesus was crucified, I found myself crying buckets and couldn’t really understand why. I was weeping my heart out over a film about someone who, to most people, including me, was a fictional character.

I don’t know why I became especially interested in the Christian faith. Some people in times of crisis go down all sorts of spiritual avenues – why did I end up in Bible Boulevard? I could so easily have wandered into Buddhist Street. For a while, I even looked into Christian Science – but it just didn’t feel right. I can only say that, somehow, unbeknown to me, God was guiding me exactly where he wanted me to go. I wanted to know the truth. My friend always encouraged me to read the Bible, just to be sure that she (or Cliff Richard) wasn’t making it up. I suddenly remembered that I had a Bible! I went rummaging around in my cupboard to fish out the very pocket Bible that Brigitte, from Paris, had given me during my travels in France, some four or five years before. The one I’d dumped at the bottom of my rucksack and had forgotten all about, and which had been tucked away on my dusty bookshelf ever since…

After my answer to prayer in Switzerland, which was in May, it was as if a candle had been lit in a very dark room. Things started to take on a different appearance. Had I not prayed to God? Hadn’t he heard me? It was a bit of a shock to have a prayer so immediately and dramatically answered. God now had my attention. I also felt a new sense of purpose, and after all the reading I’d done I’d finally come to a conclusion about my beliefs. I now had no problem believing that God was real and that he could hear me. It wasn’t just this dramatic answer to prayer; there had been a gradual change in my thinking. The issue for me now was this; “Was Jesus really who he said he was…and is? And if so, what does that mean for me?” I still couldn’t make up my mind.